San Francisco

San Francisco Narrows Search for Palace of Fine Arts Exhibit Hall Tenant

Among the throngs of tourists milling through San Francisco’s perpetual survivor, the Palace of Fine Arts, Schuyler Hudak stood out. She wandered with purpose — commandeering the camera from a tourist family to snap a picture, expertly flitting in and out of the clay-colored columns supporting the storied dome.

“I grew up in the Bay Area coming to the Exploratorium on field trips,” Hudak said, referring to the long-time science museum that once took up the Palace’s vast hall.

Memories of the museum, which moved-out several years ago, are burned into Hudak’s memories along with the sense of its somewhat oppressive vibe on the rest of the Palace’s picturesque grounds.

“It was a little more closed off,” Hudak said, “a little more fortress-like.”

Now as San Francisco narrows down its search for a new tenant for the cavernous hall, the Marina district resident is hoping whoever is chosen will become an extension of a neighborhood that covets the iconic site.

“So anything that gives you the opportunity to sit down and have a cup of coffee near this gorgeous space,” Hudak said, “I think would be a great fit for the neighborhood.”

The city will have quite a few choices for the space when next month it sends out a final request for proposals among the seven finalists for the space, which covers a sprawling 143,996 square feet.

“The number of people who want it are as varied as its history,” said San Francisco commercial real estate expert Lynn Sedway.

The seven proposals include everything from a fitness club to a museum, an art space, a marketplace, a hotel and restaurants. Responses to the plans have been just as varied — with one common thread.

“The neighbors are concerned about too much traffic,” Sedway said.

Sedway, who is advising the city in its search, said the tenant must be financially viable and take into consideration the historic requirements of the space. Said along with traffic concerns, the idea of public inclusion has risen to the top of the neighbors’ sentiments. Two of the proposals would create private membership clubs with some public access.

“Because it’s such an important building we need to make sure there’s public access,” Sedway said. “Not all uses lend themselves to public access.”

Following the Exploratorium’s move, the hall sat empty for several years. Recently a temporary tenant moved into the hall with an exhibit marking the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition.

A pair of angelic statues leftover from the fair stood like benevolent sentries flanking one of the sprawling green glass-paned doors. A vintage car languished in a corner next to the keyboard for what was once the fair’s mighty organ.

“This space invites play, amusement, learning,” said Ike Kwon, the Chief Operating Officer of Golden Gate Park’s Academy of Sciences. Kwon has served on the Palace of Fine Arts committee helping to choose a long-term tenant.

“People are going to come here because it’s the Palace of Fine Arts,” Kwon said. “That there’s something wonderful inside is a bonus.”

Following the final request for proposals in November, the city hopes to gather responses in the Spring and pick a tenant next summer.

Hudak stood beneath Bernard Maybeck’s famed rotunda, watching hordes of visitors all straining to include the dome into selfies, and leaping into the air for some strange reason to provide photographic evidence they could jump in front of an age-old icon. Hudak considered the scene, and what sort of tenant would compliment it.

“I think something that creates even more community than we already have here,” she said, before continuing her walk.

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